Is It Enough? Here’s How The Irish Government Plans To Tackle Revenge Porn

The Irish government is set to introduce laws tackling the heinous sharing of explicit and private material. Here's what you need to know.

There’s a lot of bad news out there at the moment, but one majorly positive development is the Irish government finally announced plans in December to tackle the growing and heinous phenomena of revenge porn. Non-consensual sharing of explicit images online is set to become an illegal offence after Cabinet approved the drafting of a Non-Fatal Offences (Amendment) Bill to address loopholes in current legislation.

Minister for Justice, Frances Fitzgerald, T.D. will now draft a bill detailing the crime and sentencing. A Law Reform Commission last year proposed that those guilty of sharing explicit images or videos of someone without their consent be jailed for up to 12 months and fined €5,000 if dealt with at District Court level.

The law’s long overdue. States like New Jersey in the United States responded to the issue as early as 2004. Victim advocacy groups here like Women’s Aid have called for reform as far back as over six years ago. In response to the plans, Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, said, “we have long been concerned about disclosures of digital abuse made to our National Freephone Helpline and other services. In our contacts with women, they have told us that their personal details have been shared and lies spread about them online.” The most common form of digital abuse the helpline heard about are damaging rumours being spread about women both personally and professionally and having sexually explicit images and posted online without consent. In other circumstances, abusive partners or exes have advertised women’s details on escort sites. In 2015, Women’s Aid recorded 293 disclosures of digital abuse.

While these laws target the culprits, how meaningful will the outcome be for infringed parties? Can you truly and thoroughly wipe the internet’s memory? If screenshots of since-deleted tweets haunt politicians and celebrities, what happens to explicit imagery?

Brian Honan is one of Ireland’s leading cyber and information security specialists and warns us that “any such material on the internet has the potential to stay there forever.” He says the removal of explicit personal imagery uploaded to websites without your consent depends on how early you realise you’re ‘online’ and how quickly you take steps, i.e. contacting the website, a lawyer or the Gardaí. “That’s just how it works,” he surmises sombrely.

However, he’s confident that “having (revenge porn) as a specific offence means it is more enforceable.” The Gardaí can act quicker, he says, before reassuring us that our police “have the capability” and are renowned internationally for tackling online crime.

Under Cover

But what about assailants operating anonymously on the web? With online trolls getting away with racist and misogynist attacks on people daily, is it not easy hide one’s identity? “It’s very hard to be truly anonymous (on the internet). You have got to be very good at covering all your tracks,” Brian says. People leave tracks.

In the meantime, while legislation catches up with the modern world and privacy invading crimes multiplying like hungry tumours, there are small measures one can take. Put tape over your webcam, like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. One means of recording non-consensual porn is to infect a device with malware and hack into a person’s camera and microphone. Seek out effective anti-virus software. Update your cloud safety and up your password game.

Also, “make sure you enable security features on your phone,” Brian warns. Have a password and pin. You don’t want anyone to be able to download software when you pop to the loo in work or when out.

And make sure you encrypt your device – this is a step which protects sensitive data from attackers and is a process a lot of ‘ordinary’ users skip.

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s March issue. Our April issue is on shelves now!

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